Known for pushing theatrical boundaries with a gritty and no-holds barred view of the world and homosexuality, C.E. Gatchalian doesn’t disappoint in his latest outing. This time though, he adds race to a mix of sex, graphic language and nudity.
Inspired by a story told to him by one of his Korean students when Gatchalian worked as an ESL teacher, Falling In Time follows the central story of Chang Hyun (Nelson Wong) and his coming to terms with his sexual attraction to men. In response to questioning his sexuality, Hyun wanders from one meaningless sexual encounter to another and ultimately rejects the one real connection he makes with his teacher, played by Kevin Drassler. Wong and Kraussler nail the comedy as teacher and student in some very funny early scenes and Wong brings an ultimate believability to both his Chang Hyun of 1994 and in a matching role of Korean soldier Ju Cheol in the past.
Added to the mix is Allan Morgan’s Steve, a Korean War vet who, much like Hyun, uses sex as a mechanism to cope with his own dark issues. While managing to bring the in-your-face bravado of a dying man, Morgan still manages a wonderfully restrained performance where it counts, and one that belies the description of his character as “outrageous and twisted”. Like Wong, Morgan must find feet in both 1950s Korea and 1994’s Vancouver as younger and older versions of himself, managing a credible connection of his time in the Korean War and his desire for connection in his final days. Morgan and Wong play well off each other, especially in two of their quieter moments where that desire for a real connection is almost realized by both.
Manami Hara as the final character of the piece, seems wasted and unnecessary here as if an afterthought meant to somehow represent a bond between past and present.
What I assume are doraji or Chinese bellflowers, make an ongoing appearance in Falling In Time among much symbolism throughout the show. Combined with its non-linear story that jumps endlessly between 1950s Korea and 1994 Vancouver, and a number of coincidences that are almost soap opera worthy, the successful central stories are disappointingly overshadowed.
Set and lighting designer Itai Erdal works hard in helping to realize director Sean Cummings’ decision to use a traverse stage, with the action taking place between the audience facing each other, complete with what I took to be a reference to the Korean flag and its inherent philosophy of yin and yang. While beautiful to look at, Erdal only adds to the ping-pong effect inherent in Cummings’ choice.
While at times dragged down in an overabundance of symbolism and difficult staging, Falling In Time still entertains thanks to strong performances from Wong and Morgan. That it is also a co-production between queer theatre company Screaming Weenie Productions and the mainstream Vancouver Playhouse is to be celebrated.
By C.E. Gatchalian. Directed by Sean Cummings. A Screaming Weenie Productions presentation in association with the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company and Meta.for Theatre. On stage at Performance Works on Granville Island through November 12, 2011. Visit http://www.screamingweenie.com for tickets and information.